Joonhwae and The Tragedy.

This year, my school has 19 third graders applying to foreign or international high schools. Nine-fucking-teen. Last year, we had four. And none of them got in. Fuck knows what that's about, but it's driving Co insane, because the mothers are up here in the office squawking for hours every chance they get about how their sons are the center of the universe and why can't Co see how fantastic and brilliant and singular their little darling is, to the extent that she will also lay aside absolutely every other priority in her life and stalk people on a regualr basis demanding undue favors and special treatment?

Poor Co. I don't envy her.... well, anything. Basically. Including being in charge of me.

Anyway. One of these little gems is named Joonhwae. Joonhwae has grown up a lot over the course of the past year, I have to admit. But he's still not exactly in the upper realms of students I'm happy to see. He's fine, but I wouldn't miss him. Lucky for me, Joonhwae is the second best English speaker in the entire school, after Seokhee. Not that Joonhwae ever goes out of his way to speak to me, unless his friends are looking on.

Joonhwae (or rather, Joonhwae's mother) has spent his entire life preparing to attend foreign high school. He spent three years in Canada studying English and is one of the only students who regularly brings in essays for me to proof. English is what Joonhwae is -- going to a foreign high school is all that Joonhwae has. Unfortunately, Joonhwae is in the process of learning one of the most important lessons we can learn in our youth, namely that our parents aren't perfect -- in fact, they can be the direct source of what ends up destroying huge chunks of our lives. And I don't mean in a, "I HATE YOU DAD YOU'RE RUINING MY LIFE!" kind of way. I mean literally.

There are all kinds of things that are "illegal" in Korea that I don't understand. I'm the first to admit this. All sorts of things about lives are controlled in a way that the average individualistic American would find quite offensive. For example, you are not allowed to study in another country from Korea during your middle school years. Why? I don't know. What if your family needs to be abroad during that time? I don't know. I don't get it. But that's the way that things are. This is widely known.

Joonhwae's mother decided that she would go ahead and send Joonhwae abroad for the first year of middle school anyway. Her son deserved the best in English education, and she was going to get it for him, and she would just deal with the law later, I guess. She must be the kind of person who's used to considering herself an exception. I can't imagine what else would motivate such a thing.

Well. It turns out she's actually not an exception. And neither is Joonhwae. Who'd have thunk it, eh? So. Everything that I've watched Joonhwae work for, everything that he's based his identity around, is now gone. He cannot ever attend a foreign high school. Isn't that nice? Didn't Joonhwae's mom do a great job with that one? The best part is that she's now up here at the school every day terrorizing everyone from the homeroom teacher, to the head of the English department, on up to the principal. She's enraged when they look at her blankly and explain that what she did was against the law. Why aren't they doing something to fix this? This is JOONHWAE'S FUTURE!

They realize that. But, given that they are lowly civil servants, there's really nothing they can do about making an exception to a national law. Not even for Joonhwae.

Of course, what she wants is for the school to go back and change its records, forging documents to show that Joonhwae was here and in attendance for an entire year for which he was absent. And, of course, the school refuses to do any such a thing.

Now, Joonhwae just sits in class with his head down. As far as he knows, it's all over. Life might as well end. Co was telling me she's concerned he might actually do something rash, and that she doesn't even know what to say to him anymore. How can you even offer someone in that situation comfort?

Uh. Easy enough, Co. Listen. I know you're Korean and all, but believe it or not, life does not end based on which high school you (don't) get into. Not even in Korea. Is it a huge blow? Yes. Is it something Joonhwae and his mother will probably have tension between them over for the next decade at least? Yes. The end of the world? No.

And. Joonhwae. The thing is, actually, I think this could be exactly what Joonhwae needs. I told Co that Joonhwae has always been just a little too arrogant -- too proud of something that came to him by life circumstance, rather than hard work. Yes, Joonhwae has worked hard. But his fellow students can work just as hard or harder and not end up where Joonhwae is, because they haven't had the advantages he has. Joonhwae is also just a bit spoiled and entitled. He's not a bad kid, not by a long shot. But this situation could really make or break his character.

Joonhwae has a chance to pick himself up and do something for himself for once, to really suffer a setback and work his way through it. He also has a chance to not be what his mother has preordained him as. He has the chance to prove himself to himself, and have something he knows he alone can be proud of, without question.

Why all of this about a student I'm not even that fond of? Well. It just got me thinking about how funny we are about the things that happen in life, and how absolutely epically tragic every little setback seems when we first become aware of it. Think back on all those things you thought were absolutely the end of your life during your teenage years. Now, imagine how things would be different if they hadn't happened.

It's still true. We may be grownups, but it's still true. Sometimes we need to work on our character, or we need to be shoved off in a new direction in life. It's something to think about, anyway.


saharial said...

Its very very true - setbacks are what defines us and guides us :) I know when we are still at school what are parents want for us often becomes what we want, just because we don't know or realise yet that things often have a way or working themselves out right, something parents would do well to remember. I think having kids wipes a lot of parents memory of this and inserts the 'i will live my life through you' chip and all its gloriously bad variations.

Burndog said...

They should just send him abroad for High School. That's what my former Principal did when his son was rejected by the local International Schools.

I know quite a few Koreans who studied abroad for all of Middle and High School.

Chris in South Korea said...

You mean snowflake's mommy ran back home with her tail tucked between her legs? Or trying to give yourself an advantage and getting caught leaves you with egg on your face? The shame, the horror!

OK, snark aside, there are plenty of other schools where he can get in. God / goddess forbid he get into a school that - gasp! - doesn't have a world-class English program... but isn't that what hagwons are for?

He'll be fine - keep the chin up, keep wanting to learn, and keep trying.

Anonymous said...

I totally understand the bit where you said "I told Co that Joonhwae has always been just a little too arrogant". I've come across a fair few of these types of kids due to the nature of my school (with the constant change in students). I remember one such student who had also spent time abroad telling the other kids, in Korean, that they were stupid for not understanding English. It's the only time that I've actually hated one of the students.

Kel said...

Weird. I had no idea that was a law. I've got students coming and going from foreign countries on a regular basis at my school...maybe they are planning to go abroad for high school. Now I'm curious!